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March 25, 2021
Kolbe Academy: Recover. Succeed. Transform.
“I had no building, no students, no faculty, no money, and here I was: the principal of a school” says John Petruzzelli, principal of Kolbe Academy. Still, Petruzzelli calls it “an easy decision” to assume the helm of the first faith-based recovery high school in the nation.
The former principal of Bethlehem Catholic High School had been interested in recovery high schools for some time—there are over 40 in the country serving students in recovery from substance use disorder. As a lifelong educator, coach, and student advocate, John had witnessed the difficulties, not to mention the stigma, faced by students battling addictions. In 2018, the Allentown Diocese invited him to build a Catholic recovery high school from the ground up, securing partnerships across the valley to support the school. John hired exceptional faculty and staff —who believe in the mission “to the marrow of their bones”— and whom he feels honored to call colleagues.
The feeling is mutual. “The dynamic between John and the students and staff at Kolbe Academy is truly a blessing,” says Arielle Kaminski, Advancement Director at Kolbe. “John’s leadership is centered on relationships and service; he is always willing to roll up his sleeves and work with any of us through our struggles.”
Kolbe’s mission is to support students with recovery plans, academic plans, and activities that help them grow as people and lead to success. Kolbe’s first class graduated in 2020—in a culture of compassion, accountability, honesty, and trust. “We’re giving students courage and strength,” says John, “to get up in the morning and say: I’m going to conquer whatever the battle is today.”
The battles are many; the need is great. Between Northampton and Lehigh County, “close to 2,000 kids a year are being assessed for drug and alcohol issues, and the mental health issues related to addiction,” says John. “And that’s pre- COVID. The more we can educate, the more people come to understand addiction as a family disease, a community disease, the quicker we’re going to address this health crisis.”
Every single day, John’s heart, so rooted in the mission of Kolbe Academy, is centered on the students and their families. And they feel it: “Kolbe Academy has been here for me this whole time,” says Kolbe student, Gabe. “They’ve been helping me, they’ve been there for me when I needed to talk through the darkest times—through pretty much anything.”
Visit their website at kolbe-academy.com for more information.